Competitive and recreational sporting opportunities for patients with disabilities have increased tremendously. One particular group of patients that has benefited from these opportunities and now participates in sports in ever-enlarging numbers is individuals with paraplegia. For the purposes of this article, paraplegia is defined as complete or incomplete paralysis in the lower extremities such that a wheelchair must be used as the primary mode of mobility. (See also the articles Spinal Cord Injury: Definition, Epidemiology, Pathophysiology in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation section of this site, and Spinal Cord Injuries in the Emergency Medicine section.)
The number of people with paraplegia continues to increase over time as general health and life expectancy has been increased to levels that are comparable to individuals without paraplegia. As a result, the demand by those with paraplegia for competitive and recreational sporting opportunities has exploded. An additional factor for the rapid growth of participation in sporting activities by those with paraplegia is the improvement in accessibility, as well as the improved designs of sporting facilities and wheelchairs, which allow for meaningful athletic competition.
Sports participation is an indispensable method of modern rehabilitation. Especially after medical rehabilitation is completed, sports have an invaluable therapeutic value in renewing the paraplegic’s lost powers, helping coordination, and maintaining stamina. Today, individuals with paraplegia participate in all types of sports for competition, enjoyment, and to improve overall fitness.